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Flowerpeckers: Dicaeidae

FLOWERPECKERS: Dicaeidae

FIRE-BREASTED FLOWERPECKER (Dicaeum ignipectus): SPECIES ACCOUNTS
FAN-TAILED BERRYPECKER (Melanocharis versteri): SPECIES ACCOUNTS

PHYSICAL CHARACTERISTICS

Flowerpeckers consist of the true flowerpeckers and the berrypeckers. Some researchers consider only the true flowerpeckers as members of the family Dicaeidae, with the berrypeckers sometimes in dispute among scientists as to their membership in the family.

All six groups of birds are very small, dumpy-looking, often brightly colored with short, usually straight bills and short stubby tails. Upperparts are dark and glossy, and under parts are lighter. In species with dull plumage (feathers), no difference between males and females occurs. In those species with bright plumage, males have patches of bright colors; those patches are missing in females. In some species, females appear duller and larger than males. They are 2.2 to 8.3 inches (5.6 to 21.0 centimeters) long and weigh between 0.14 and 2.80 ounces (4 to 80 grams).

True flowerpeckers are small birds with short bills and short, stubby tails. The outer third of the upper bill is serrated (having notches). Their tongues have frilly outer edges, termed fimbriations.

Berrypeckers have simple tongues, long, straight bills, and lack specializations of the gut (abdomen) that are contained in true flowerpeckers.


GEOGRAPHIC RANGE

Flowerpeckers and berrypeckers are found on the Indian subcontinent, Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, southern China, Hainan Island, Taiwan, the Malay Peninsula, Indonesia, the Philippines, Sulawesi, the Moluccas, New Guinea and its surrounding islands, and Australia.


HABITAT

Flowerpeckers reside in tall forests, from sea level up to more than 12,000 feet (3,700 meters) in altitude where little vegetation grows. The birds range from rainforests, secondary growth forests, and woodlands to cultivated farmlands and urban areas.


DIET

Food for flowerpeckers consists mostly of berries from shrubs, trees, and vines (especially mistletoe berries); fruits; nectar; and pollen; but also small insects and spiders. The birds do a funny-looking dance while trying to separate the fleshy part of the mistletoe berries from their large seeds. Smaller fruits are eaten whole, while insects and spiders are caught as they fly through the air.

BEHAVIOR AND REPRODUCTION

Flowerpeckers easily twist and turn while roaming among foliage. They actively move their wings and sharply call out while feeding. The birds are territorial, with males chasing intruders in weaving flight over their territory. The birds are usually found singly, in pairs, or small groups, but sometimes join with different types of birds. They often sit quietly on perches for long periods of time. When vocal, they give out simple, faint metallic chirps and clicks, and high-pitched twittering. Some species produce a series of rapid back-and-forth notes.

PECKING AT FLOWERS

Flowerpeckers are named for their tendency to peck at flowers with their bills for nectar, seeds, and small insects. One species of flowerpecker native to Australia is the mistletoebird, which pecks on mistletoe berries. Within a half an hour after eating the berry, it is excreted. Because mistletoe is considered a parasitic plant on trees, the mistletoe bird is sometimes considered a pest.

Reproduction behavior of flowerpeckers is not known very well. Courtship rituals include flitting around females, calling out to them, and fanning their tails. They generally nest in pairs. The description of eggs is still unknown in some species. Males and females share duties on the construction of nests, incubation (process of sitting on eggs before hatching) of eggs, and feeding of the young. Open nests are hung from thick bushes, shrubs, or trees, and are made in the shape of a cup or pendant with a narrow side entrance near the top. Nest materials consist of vegetable material, dried flowers, lichen, feathers, grass, or small roots, all of which are held together with cobwebs and lined with vegetable down. Some nests are decorated with insect waste matter or other debris. Most eggs are white, but a few species lay spotted ones. The female lays usually two eggs, but one to four eggs are possible. The incubation period is about 15 days, and the nestling period (time necessary to take care of young birds unable to leave nest) is also about 15 days.


FLOWERPECKERS AND PEOPLE

People consider some species to be pests because they deposit seeds of mistletoe, which is a parasite (organism living on another) on trees that are used in the lumber industry and for other economic purposes. The crested berrypecker is often caught for food in the highlands of New Guinea.


CONSERVATION STATUS

The Cebu flowerpecker is Critically Endangered, facing an extremely high risk of extinction, with a population of less than fifty birds. The black-belted or Visayan flowerpecker and the scarlet-collared flowerpecker are both Vulnerable, facing a high risk of extinction. Five other species are Near Threatened, in danger of becoming threatened with extinction.

FIRE-BREASTED FLOWERPECKER (Dicaeum ignipectus): SPECIES ACCOUNTS

Physical characteristics: Fire-breasted flowerpeckers have a black crown (top part of the head); black upperparts with dark brown cheeks, a scarlet breast, and buff belly and throat. They are about 3.5 inches (8.9 centimeters) long, and weigh between 0.14 and 0.28 ounces (4 and 8 grams).


Geographic range: Fire-breasted flowerpeckers range throughout most of Southeast Asia including Mindanao, Negros, and Samar (within the Philippines), Sumatra (within Indonesia), Cambodia, northeast and southeast Thailand, Taiwan, Kashmir, northeast India, Nepal, Bhutan, Sikkim, northern Myanmar, northern Indochina, southern China, and southeast Tibet.


Habitat: These birds live in mountainous forests, oak woodlands, and cultivated lands. They also live near rhododendrons (an ornamental evergreen shrub of the heath family).

Diet: Nectar, fruits, mistletoe berries, insects, and spiders are eaten by fire-breasted flowerpeckers.


Behavior and reproduction: Fire-breasted flowerpeckers are very active birds, especially around treetops. They join other birds within their species and other bird species during the nonbreeding season.


Fire-breasted flowerpeckers and people: People and fire-breasted flowerpeckers have no especially significant relationship.


Conservation status: Fire-breasted flowerpeckers are not threatened. ∎

FAN-TAILED BERRYPECKER (Melanocharis versteri): SPECIES ACCOUNTS

Physical characteristics: Fan-tailed berrypeckers have whitish underparts and side feathers on a very long tail. The white tail patches are very noticeable while they fly. They are 5.5 to 6.0 inches (14 to 19 centimeters) long. Females are larger and heavier than males, with a wing length of 2.6 to 2.8 inches (6.6 to 7.1 centimeters) and a weight of between 0.56 and 0.70 ounces (16 and 20 grams). Males have a wing length of 2.32 to 2.52 inches (5.9 to 6.4 centimeters) and a weight of between 0.44 and 0.53 ounces (12.5 and 15.0 grams).


Geographic range: Fan-tailed berrypeckers are found in the mountains of New Guinea; both in Indonesia and Papua New Guinea. The birds are usually found in lands that lie 4,500 to 10,800 feet (1,400 to 3,300 meters) in altitude.

Habitat: Fan-tailed berrypeckers occupy mountainous forests, tree-fern heaths (grassy and shrubby uncultivated land), and alpine thickets. They generally prefer undergrowth but sometimes are found in the middle strata of forests.


Diet: Small berries and insects are usually eaten by fan-tailed berrypeckers. Berries and insects are taken from the undergrowth and eaten whole. The bird often hovers to pluck berries or to take insects from the foliage.


Behavior and reproduction: Fan-tailed berrypeckers are shy birds, usually found singly or in pairs. They are active feeders. While flying in an acrobatic (with daring maneuvers) manner, they show white coloring in the tail. They have a harsh song and their calls are often heard in squeaks and nasal scold-like tones.

Nests are built much larger than necessary for the size of the birds. A neat, sturdy, and deep cup is constructed that is usually 3 inches (8 centimeters) in diameter and about 4 inches (10 centimeter) high. Nests are made of fibers torn from ferns, lined with lichens, and usually placed in the fork of a tree or on a horizontal branch. Fan-tailed berrypeckers build the nests so predators cannot easily find them.


Fan-tailed berrypeckers and people: People and fan-tailed berrypeckers have no known significant relationship.


Conservation status: Fan-tailed berrypeckers are not threatened. ∎


FOR MORE INFORMATION

Books:

del Hoyo, Josep, Andrew Elliott, Jordi Sargatal, et al, eds. Handbook of the Birds of the World. Barcelona: Lynx Edicions, 1992.

Dickinson, Edward C., ed. The Howard and Moore Complete Checklist of the Birds of the World, 3rd ed. Princeton, NJ and Oxford, U.K.: Princeton University Press, 2003.

Forshaw, Joseph, ed. Encyclopedia of Birds, 2nd ed. San Diego, CA: Academic Press, 1998.

Harrison, Colin James Oliver. Birds of the World. London and New York: Dorling Kindersley, 1993.

Perrins, Christopher M., and Alex L. A. Middleton, eds. The Encyclopedia of Birds. New York: Facts on File, 1985.

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